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Seasonal Food and How to Incorporate it into a Healthy Diet Over The Holidays

By Abi Bridge, Dietetic Intern

The holidays are filled with wonderful food. There are sweet treats, delicious casseroles cooking in the oven and many seasonal favorites available at every restaurant and shop. Many fruits and vegetables that we associate with the holidays are in season during the wintertime, which means they are more affordable and easier to find. How can we incorporate some of our favorite holiday food into a healthy diet? Here are a few ideas:

Always make sure to carefully inspect cranberries in the grocery store to ensure they are in good condition without soft spots or liquid inside the bag. Store them in your refrigerator for no longer than a month or freeze them for up to a year.

Use cranberries to make sauce or glaze for meat, mix into a smoothie, add whole or puree for your oatmeal, smash them to make jam, chop for salsa, add whole into your granola mixture, boil and strain for juice, incorporate into salad dressing or chop for salads. There is always the option for the classic cranberry salad!

Shopping for pears can be tricky. When you’re at the grocery store, gently press your finger into the top side of the pear and choose the one that leaves a slight indent but is not too soft. The softer the pear, the more that it will fall apart while eating. The harder it is, the less ripe it is. Avoid pears with large dark spots. A little bruising is fine, but too much can indicate a bad pear. Pears ripen off the tree, so if you choose one that is not ripe enough, it will continue to ripen at home. Store them in a cool environment if you want to slow down the ripening process. Leave out on the counter to let the pear continue to ripen.

To prepare a pear dish, you can slice and put on a salad, blend pears to make dressing, cut up and use in coleslaw, slice thinly on toast, sauté with dressing on top, bake with cinnamon and honey, chop or puree to put in relish on top of meat, roast with vegetables or enjoy the seasonal classic poached pear for dessert.

Chestnuts are easy to choose in the store if you can find a marketplace that sells them around the holidays. They will most likely be available in a specialized market or a higher end grocery store. Choose chestnuts that are firm, heavy and glossy. Avoid the nuts that have blemishes or cracks on the shell. You will want to eat nuts within a few days.

Depending on how you would like to prepare them, you can soak chestnuts and use a knife to make a cross in the shell and bake. You can also make one cut in the shell and cook them on low heat on the stove until they start to brown. The chestnuts will expand while cooking, which is why it is important to make a cut in the shell to allow them to do so. You can roast, boil or add chestnuts to salads, side dishes like risotto or rice, use whole in soup, dice and add to mixed vegetables or crumble on top of a dessert like cheesecake. There is also the holiday favorite: chestnuts roasted on an open fire.

To purchase figs, look for soft, smooth figs that smell fresh. Avoid figs that are too soft, much like a pear. If they are firm, then they are not ready to eat. Store them flat in the

You can broil sliced figs and eat them plain or on a salad, add to yogurt or granola, grill sliced figs, roast with brown sugar, wrap them in your choice of cheese, add them to a marinade or sauce along with herbs and spices to pair with meat. You can also include them in the pan when roasting your choice of meat in the oven.

To cook with peppermint, use fresh peppermint leaves, extract or oil. Peppermint oil is more concentrated than peppermint extract, so use it sparingly and make sure to purchase oil that is safe for internal consumption.

For a few simple ways to incorporate peppermint into your diet, you can use peppermint creamer, leaves or extract to spice up your coffee. You can also drink peppermint tea. Peppermint is a blend of water, mint, and spearmint, but you can also use mint for a holiday flavor. Add fresh mint to your yogurt with berries. A sweet, yet nutritious treat idea—use a food processor to break down peppermint candy canes and melt white chocolate. Pour white chocolate over popcorn, then add candy cane dust and stir.

Gingerbread typically consists of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice and molasses. Gingerbread is a special treat during the holidays. To get more of the nutritional benefits out of gingerbread, use Greek yogurt in place of part of the butter or fat in the recipe, along with whole wheat flour in place of all-purpose white flour. Using these two alternatives offers more protein, calcium, probiotics, fiber, folate, and B vitamins. It also cuts down on the amount of fat that the original recipes contain.